residents on the Somerset Levels have claimed they are enduring
developing-world conditions as the government said it would work with
local authorities and agencies to tackle the problem, but gave no
firm promise of extra money.
Conservative environment secretary, Owen Paterson, was heckled during
a visit to a pumping station by residents who were angry that he did
not stop to speak to them and sceptical that significant changes
would be made.
all still in the lap of the gods," said Bryony Sadler, a
hairdresser and member of the newly created Flooding on the Levels
Action Group (Flag). She dismissed Paterson's visit to the banks of
the swollen river Parrett as a publicity stunt. "It was a waste
of taxpayers' money. He hasn't told us what's going on. We have lived
like a third-world country for three weeks. Nobody is really
listening to us."
visited Somerset following pressure in the House of Commons from
local Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs last week and the eye-catching
declaration of a "major incident" by one of the local
had been high hopes that an announcement of extra cash for the area
or a firm plan to dredge rivers – which many believe will cure the
problem of prolonged flooding – would be made.
Paterson said local authorities, the Environment Agency and other
bodies had been given six weeks to come up with a new scheme to
said this would "almost certainly" involve clearing the
Parrett and Tone rivers and suggested a new sluice to keep seawater
out of the river systems could be built.
said other bodies such as environmental charities had a role to play
in working out how water can be held back further up in the hills. He
said planting schemes could help slow the progress of water and work
was needed to improve sustainable drainage systems in nearby towns.
"All that together is a long-term, serious plan which I hope
will give us satisfactory results here over the next 20 years,"
the prospect of help years hence does not impress people suffering
now. Farmer James Hall said 90% of his land was under water. "You
begin to wonder if it is worth it," he said. "Farming is
all about handing the business down to future generations. But I'm
not sure there is going to be anything to hand down."
Richards called for Paterson to resign. Her grandfather Walter's home
is flooded for the second time in as many years, forcing him to take
refuge with his family. She said: "It is appalling. He has only
just got things back together after his home was flooded last year.
He had to move all his furniture by himself at 85."
Crocker said she was having to share a portable toilet with
neighbours after septic tanks failed. "We feel abandoned. We're
human beings and this is the 21st century and we're not feeling like
we're part of it any more."
leader of Tory-controlled Somerset county council, John Osman, was
disappointed that no additional funding had been announced. "We
will continue to keep the pressure on to secure a fair deal for
Somerset's residents," he said. Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for
Bridgwater and a fierce critic of the Environment Agency, said he was
pleased Paterson had set a timetable. "Now we can bypass the
Environment Agency and deal directly with the government," he
hit areas of Somerset
agency blamed the flooding on an "extraordinary combination of
weather conditions" and said: "We're doing everything we
can to pump water off the Somerset Levels as quickly as river and
tide levels allow. This is the single largest pumping operation ever
undertaken in Somerset."
added: "Dredging is often not the best long-term or economic
solution and increased dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels
would not have prevented the recent widespread flooding."
widely regarded as a climate change sceptic, was also facing
questions after it emerged money spent on preparing the UK for the
impacts of global warming had almost halved since he took office.
released under freedom of information rules show annual spending
falling from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14. The drop in
funding follows a previous slashing of staff working on the issue
from 38 to six in May 2013.
called the cuts "shocking" and "complacent".